Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Turning SEAL Assignments Into Stories
“I felt proud that I’d fought, or something like proud, but also glad it was over.” That’s the narrator of one story in Will Mackin’s debut collection, “Bring Out the Dog.” During his time in the United States Navy, Mr. Mackin was deployed with SEAL teams on assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. When he came home, he relied on notes he kept during his time in combat to write these stories, three of which have appeared in The New Yorker. Below, Mr. Mackin talks about the experiences that inspired the book, why he chose to write fiction, a Pink Floyd lyric that has influenced his life and more.
When did you first get the idea to write this book?
I’ve always wanted to write, as long as I can remember. The idea for this particular book came out of the sensory details of the wars. When I was deploying with a SEAL team in Iraq and Afghanistan, our mission was night raids, and we wore night vision. There was a disconnect between the actual image and the image I was seeing in the goggles, and in some of the transmission — I could hear the guy next to me speaking on the radio, and a few seconds later I’d hear his voice in my head on delay. The voice would sound different but all the words were the same.
Nothing directly appears as what it is. Especially at night, when you’re seeing things basically in three different forms: the heat-and-light image in night vision; the silhouette in darkness I’d see in my peripheral or if I looked under the goggles; and the image I knew — like, if I was looking at a teammate, the guy I was familiar with, my memory of what he looked like in daylight. That sort of sensory confusion really stuck with me.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
Probably how much of writing isn’t writing. My work ethic prior to this, in terms of writing, was: More is better. I tried to sit at the desk and generate more. If I was stuck, I thought, “All I have to do is just sit here and think about it more.” But I learned that I had to take a break when it just wasn’t working. I did stuff around the house — things that were repetitive and didn’t require a lot of thought. We live out near Albuquerque, and we have grass, which is rare. Our sprinkler system was broken. I dug up a line to fix, and then another, and I ended up digging up the whole network of lines in the backyard. It was hard work. It was knotted with roots and all kinds of craziness. My mind was occupied with other things, and ideas came.